In 1897 H.G. Wells showed us the "Invisible Man." A scientist that Wells only identifies as Griffin discovers a supernatural formula to make his physical body transparent. First, his misguided work corrupts him, then, the exalting power of being everywhere unobserved blinds him. Since he could see no limits to his acts, even killing was not beyond him.
In today's nonfictional world there are too many men and women who think they are invisible. Looking around, one may not see them in their evil ways, but just like the invisible man of Wells' creation, one can follow them with the plunder they carry or the damage they inflict.
The illusion that no one will detect their actions can seduce even the innocent. Like Griffin, they start out imagining all the potential without fathoming the harm. Infidelity in marriage or dishonesty at work flourishes in darkness when the delusional perpetrators think they are undetectable. They stop seeing their own wrongs and soon kill any good character they had. One of the greatest lies of those who think they are invisible is, "No one will ever know."
In government there are some elected officials who want their works to be invisible to the people who selected them and who they are supposed to serve. Hiding their actions makes them feel visibly powerful. Griffin would rob unseen except for the money held in his clutches, which was obvious as it appeared to float along the lane. We are being robbed of our tax dollars in the thousands of earmarks or special projects inserted by legislators who have no accountability. Without oversight it is hard to trace the individual offender, but the money follows them for all to see.
Invisibility at times is critical in national security, but hiding behind the shroud of, "trust me I am from Washington," or everything is a state secret, gives license for misdeeds. When the shades are pulled up revealing the abuses, the wrongs become repugnant for all to see. It also becomes the traditional scandal of not only the initial criminality but also the conspiracy to destroy the evidence that had shown light in the first place.
In health care there are thousands of invisible men and women doing all kinds of things that are unseen by the eyes of anyone else. Many great and noble acts are performed without notice or recognition, but errors also can go unanswered. Sterile drapes are hung around the wound to make the body cavity less visible to bacteria, but there is a metaphor in the covering of the patient that can cover a system of mistakes with little revealed to the patient, or to anyone else for that matter.
As long as there is no accountability, we will act like invisible men and women. Even in medicine there is the risk of us becoming like Griffin. First, thrilled with the prospect of being unseen, we then become careless if we think no one is watching. Next there could be the exaggeration of our power to the belief of invincibility from our invisibility. If we are not careful the risk of being deadly increases.
We have to do more that just shine more light to make the invisible visible. As in Wells' story, we have to have people step forward and warn others about the dangers of the dark and the occult. The villagers had to stop Griffin, and we need to be warned when there is madness running around with the potential to do harm in government, commerce and in our own personal lives.We need more transparency to ask questions, learn about what is happening, and examine our government and other institutions to understand the system better. Transparency is not invisibility, and seeing the hidden makes it no longer invisible.
Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing pediatrician for more than 25 years and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org